But I’m more concerned with what this means for video games—not just the type of video games we can expect on the Oculus now that a large social media company owns the technology, but also whether games will even be a priority on the device when all is said and done.
At first glance, it might not seem obvious why Oculus is partnering with Facebook, a company focused on connecting people, investing in internet access for the world and pushing an open computing platform. But when you consider it more carefully, we’re culturally aligned with a focus on innovating and hiring the best and brightest; we believe communication drives new platforms; we want to contribute to a more open, connected world; and we both see virtual reality as the next step.
Most important, Facebook understands the potential for VR. Mark and his team share our vision for virtual reality’s potential to transform the way we learn, share, play, and communicate. Facebook is a company that believes that anything is possible with the right group of people, and we couldn’t agree more.
On reddit, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey expands on this enthusiasm:
In the end, I kept coming back to a question we always ask ourselves every day at Oculus: what’s best for the future of virtual reality? Partnering with Mark and the Facebook team is a unique and powerful opportunity. The partnership accelerates our vision, allows us to execute on some of our most creative ideas and take risks that were otherwise impossible. Most importantly, it means a better Oculus Rift with fewer compromises even faster than we anticipated.
And Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg gives his own take:
After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.
This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.
Connecting the world, open communication, sharing “unbounded spaces” with people in your life: These are all very noble buzzwords, but what do they really mean? Is this the future of status updates?
And how closely linked to the Facebook social media platform will the Oculus Rift become?
To be fair, Zuckerberg goes out of his way to reassure gamers that the Oculus Rift will, at least in the beginning, remain devoted to video games:
Immersive gaming will be the first, and Oculus already has big plans here that won’t be changing and we hope to accelerate. The Rift is highly anticipated by the gaming community, and there’s a lot of interest from developers in building for this platform. We’re going to focus on helping Oculus build out their product and develop partnerships to support more games. Oculus will continue operating independently within Facebook to achieve this.
I never suspected that the Oculus Rift would remain solely in the realm of video games. Virtual reality has too many obvious (and less obvious) applications to be wed forever to games, even if games are at the heart of this particular innovation.
Sure, the partnership “opens doors to new opportunities and partnerships, reduces risk on the manufacturing and work capital side, allows us to publish more made-for-VR content” but it also places the Oculus Rift squarely in the hands of Facebook, and there’s something disconcerting about a device like this landing in the hands of a company with almost no experience in gaming hardware or software—not to mention Facebook’s shaky relationship with user privacy, something that could have implications down the road for online VR applications.
A more sensible partnership—if not ideal—would have been with Microsoft.
Admittedly, that firm has its own privacy issues, but at least Microsoft has an established hardware business and is a major player in both video games, with its Xbox brand, and PC gaming. Say what you will about Microsoft, they have a firm grasp on video games and merging video game technology with other uses.
Microsoft has expressed interest in getting into the virtual reality space, a technology that seems like a perfect fit for its motion/voice Kinect sensor. For $2 billion (or so) the tech giant could have acquired an established technology, edging them much closer to Sony's own Project Morpheus.
This is to say nothing of how this impacts Kickstarter backers. No doubt all the reward promises are more than secure, but that promise of a grassroots, innovative gaming product has been subsumed by the promise of a “connected world.” (Certainly one backer, Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson, is unhappy with the deal.)
A big acquisition like this will certainly help the Rift become a reality, but will it be the video game device we expected or something else entirely?
Naturally, one can hardly blame the Oculus team for making this deal. $2 billion is a lot of money, especially for a technology that is currently promising but not market tested. We have a lot of hype, some very impressive tech demos, and no guarantee that virtual reality will actually be the hit so many think it will be.